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Would you take debt advice from an influencer?

Written by: Emma Lunn
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received complaints about Instagram stories linked to Debt Slayers, a lead generation firm for individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs).

The advertising regulator said three influencers – Helen Briggs, Myles Barnett and Chloe Ferry – failed to make the risks and fees of IVAs clear or to mark the posts as ads.

The Instagram stories were seen in December 2020 and January 2021 and all featured a link to Debt Slayers’ website.

A story on Barnett’s Instagram account stated: “One of my friends just got 81 percent of his debt wiped off. So if you’ve got debt above £5,000 – it could be credit cards, catalogues, car finance … a loan, anything like that, swipe up, there’s more information on there … I know it’s weird times at the moment and everyone’s finances have taken a hit. So swipe up, and you can wipe off a big, big chunk of your debt”.

A story on Geordie Shore star’s Ferry’s Instagram account claimed “this is a new fully regulated scheme that can help you write off 85% of the debt.”

The ASA received three complaints about the posts. The complaints were about whether the posts were obviously identifiable as marketing communications, if they exaggerated the ease with which debts could be reduced, and whether the risks of IVAs were made clear.

The ASA itself challenged whether two of the posts were misleading as they suggested that Debt Slayers provided the service and didn’t make it clear that the company passed on leads.

Ashteck Media, trading as Debt Slayers, said it had informal agreements with Briggs, Barnett, and Ferry to produce the relevant Instagram posts. It also claimed that consumers who contacted Debt Slayers as a result of the posts were made aware of the risks and fees associated with IVAs.

It said that the third parties, to whom the firm provided leads, also made consumers aware of those fees and risks.

Since the posts were made, Ashteck Media has amended the wording of its marketing campaigns to ensure it’s clear that they passed on leads to third parties rather than providing debt management services directly.

Ashteck Media also said it had also stopped using influencers to promote its services.

Briggs’ agent said that Briggs’ future marketing communications would be properly labelled. The agent for Barnett and Ferry said it accepted that the wording of the posts was potentially in breach of the advertising code. The agent said that they would not work with IVA, debt lead, or debt management services in the future.

Upholding the complaints, the ASA said the ads must not appear again in the form complained about.

It said that Debt Slayers had dictated the contents of the posts and that the influencers had been remunerated for making the posts. However, there was nothing in the posts, such as “#ad” displayed clearly, that made clear to consumers they were adverts. The regulator concluded that they were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications and breached the advertising code.

A statement from the ASA said: “We told Ashteck Media Ltd t/a Debt Slayers to ensure their ads did not exaggerate the speed or ease with which debts could be reduced; that they made risks and fees of IVAs and other debt management services clear; and that they made clear that they passed on enquirers’ details to third parties and did not provide the service themselves.”

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